Ford Smith doesn’t have much to say about the time he met Kevin Durant.
“It was cool,” he said.
But the fact that the 7-year-old can say anything at all is a triumph.
A little over three years ago, Ford was the victim of a vicious dog attack. The animal went for his throat, crushing his larynx and puncturing his trachea. It nearly killed him and left him with voice problems that linger still.
After a long hospital stay and amid an even longer recovery, the little boy got to meet the Thunder superstar.
He’s hardly the only one to have a KD encounter.
In the glow of Durant’s MVP award, the world has come to know about the good guy in the No. 35 jersey. But Oklahomans have known about that side of KD for years. They have seen it in big and small ways, from his $1 million donation to tornado relief in Moore to his chance meetings with fans all around the state.
Seems like everyone has a KD-and-me story.
And Durant’s meeting three years ago with Brian and Tiffany Smith and their boys, Parker and Ford, is typical. It was done quietly, without fanfare, it was heartfelt and genuine, and it resonated the folks with whom he crossed paths.
“It was only five minutes,” Brian said, “but it was well worth it to my kids.”
A few months earlier, Ford was playing in the yard at the family’s house in Covington, a tiny town 20 minutes east of Enid. He and older brother Parker were riding inside a toy police car when the neighbor’s dog busted through the gate. It went after Ford.
“He basically went straight for his throat,” Tiffany said.
Parker ran to find their dad, Brian, who pulled the dog off of Ford. It then bit Brian and Parker and Tiffany, who’d run into the yard after hearing the commotion. But Ford had taken the worst of it.
The family rushed to the hospital in Enid, and almost immediately, Ford was airlifted to OU Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City.
His larynx was crushed, caused by blunt and penetrating trauma. His trachea was punctured in three places. In an attempt to let those wounds heal, Ford was placed in a medically induced coma. He was paralyzed and sedated for five days.
One night, his lung collapsed, and he had to be bagged so that he could breathe.
Tiffany and Brian thought they might lose him.
A couple of years later, Tiffany and Ford were looking at some pictures of his time in the hospital. Ford suddenly said that he remembered a story about being there.
“I remember I was way up high and you and daddy were way down low,” he said. “I could hear you and see you, but you couldn’t see me.”
“What?” Tiffany asked, stunned.
“There was a little boy up there trying to help me. And I thought you were going to leave me.”
Tiffany has since read the book, “Heaven Is for Real,” which recounts a similar experience. But at the time, neither she nor her boys had, so it wasn’t as if Ford was recounting something he’d heard elsewhere.
No one is sure what happened to Ford, but the morning after his lungs collapsed, a nurse came in and told Tiffany and Brian that Ford had a small laceration on the bridge of his nose.
It was in the shape of a cross.
A couple days later, Ford moved from ICU to a regular room. And a couple days after that, he went home.
But before the Smiths left the hospital, they were talking about what they were going to do once Ford was released. Among their plans was a trip to see the Thunder play. Both of the boys were big sports fans — Brian is the football coach at Covington-Douglas High School — and a trip to The Peake seemed like a good way to celebrate what they’d survived.
One of the nurses caught wind of their plans. She happened to also work as an in-arena paramedic during games, so she told a couple of the Thunder representatives who she knew about Ford.
Would it be possible for him to meet KD?
The request was taken to Durant as well as Russell Westbrook, both of whom agreed, and after the game, the Smiths met the superstars. Durant had family and friends there in the arena waiting on him, but he came over and shook hands with everyone in the family, asked about what had happened, then passed basketballs back and forth with the boys.
He posed for a photo and signed the basketballs before saying goodbye.
The boys were almost speechless, but afterward, they couldn’t stop talking about the whole thing.
“Did you see how big his hands were?” they marveled. “Did you see how long his fingers were?”
Since that night, there has been more surgery for Ford, including one in Boston with a doctor who has repaired vocal cord damage on the likes of Adele and Keith Urban. Ford has scar tissue between his vocal cords that keeps them from coming all the way together and makes it so that he can’t change the pitch of his voice much.
He’ll likely have more surgeries on that as he gets older and his voice starts to change.
But amid tough times, that meeting with KD will forever be a great memory. Those minutes were precious.
“You see him as such a star,” Tiffany said, “but to see them step down and just be a person is really humbling.
“It meant a lot.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
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